Palestinian officials in Ramallah on Monday defended recent meetings with Israelis and dismissed allegations they were betraying Palestinians by promoting normalization with Israel.
The officials insisted the meetings, which took place on Friday and Sunday, were approved by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.
The meetings with Israelis were part of the Palestinian leadership’s campaign to rally opposition to US President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for Middle East peace, the officials said.
The campaign also aims to show the Israeli public that the Palestinians are partners for peace, they said.
“The attacks on us are disgusting and shameful,” complained one of the Palestinians engaged in the recent meetings. “The campaign of incitement serves the interests of Hamas and endanger our lives. We are not traitors. We are working to relay our message to the Israeli public. We are like the freedom fighters of the PLO but without weapons. We believe in peace and dialogue, and for that we are being condemned by many people.”
On Friday, 20 Palestinians, including former ministers, participated in a meeting organized in Tel Aviv by the Israeli Peace Parliament group.
On Sunday, the PA invited several Israeli journalists for a tour of Ramallah. It included meetings and interviews with a number of senior Palestinian officials.
Most of the Palestinians who took part in the two events are associated with the PLO’s Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society. Established in 2012, the committee has arranged hundreds of meetings between Israelis and Palestinians.
The committee is headed by Mohammed Al-Madani, a member of the Fatah Central Committee.
In 2016, former defense minister Avigdor Liberman revoked Madani’s VIP status, effectively preventing him from entering Israel. Madani was suspected of working to establish a new political party in Israel that would be affiliated with the PA.
“Ironically, the Palestinian official who is promoting dialogue with Israelis is banned from entering Israel,” a Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post. “Despite the ban, Al-Madani has not given up on his mission and is continuing to encourage meetings between Palestinians and Israelis. He is also continuing to invite many Israelis from various political parties to meetings with Palestinians in Ramallah.”
Madani’s activities have, nevertheless, enraged many Palestinians, some of whom have gone as far as denouncing him as a “traitor” for allegedly promoting normalization “with the Israeli occupation.”
In the past few days, the attacks on Madani and his committee intensified as Palestinians took to social media to strongly condemn the recent meetings with Israelis. Anti-Israel groups, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, have also joined the “anti-normalization” drive.
After Friday’s meeting in Tel Aviv, several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, accused the Palestinian participants of engaging in normalization with Israel. Palestinian Facebook users published “black lists” of some of the participants and accused them of betraying the Palestinian people and cause by talking to Israelis.
A woman who attended the Israeli Peace Parliament gathering in Tel Aviv told the Post she has since received scores of hate messages from Palestinians who hurled abuse at her and called her a traitor.
“What surprised me was that among those who were criticizing me was a Palestinian journalist working for a major US news organization in the West Bank,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “That represents the height of hypocrisy. If you hate Israel and the US so much, why are you working for an American media outlet?”
The smear campaign on social-media platforms forced one of the Palestinian participants, Hamdallah Al-Hamdallah, mayor of the West Bank town of Anabta, to announce his resignation on his Facebook page. The mayor later removed the post, apparently at the request of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society.
On Monday, Bir Zeit University published a statement distancing itself from Bassem Khoury, a member of the university’s board of trustees who participated in the Tel Aviv meeting. The statement came after students protested against his participation in the “normalization meeting” with Israelis.
“The university affirms its clear policy of rejecting any form of normalization with the occupation,” the statement said.
The attacks on Palestinian “normalizers” escalated on Sunday after Palestinians learned that Israeli journalists had been invited to Ramallah for meetings with PA officials.
Many Palestinians posted on social media a video of some of the journalists near Nelson Mandela Square in Ramallah. The Palestinians claimed the Israeli journalists were “Jewish settlers who had invaded Ramallah.”
As photos of the meetings between the journalists and the PA officials surfaced, dozens of Palestinians launched an online campaign denouncing normalization with Israel as “criminal and treachery.” The Palestinian critics called for dismantling Madani’s committee and held it responsible for encouraging meetings between Israelis and Palestinians.
Many Palestinians pointed out that one of the PA officials who met with the Israeli journalists had recently condemned Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for involvement in normalization with Israel, because of his meeting in Uganda with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The Palestinian leaders have been condemning normalization between Arabs and Israel, but now we see they are doing the same thing,” said Issa Hijazi, an academic from Hebron. “Palestinian leaders keep sending contradictory messages to their people.”
Hijazi said he and other Palestinians were also surprised to hear Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, say security coordination with Israel was ongoing.
“Some Palestinian officials have been telling us in the past three weeks that they have decided to cut all ties with Israel,” said Ramallah-based businessman Awad Abdel Haq. “It seems to me Palestinians are angry not because of the meetings with Israelis but because they see that the Palestinian leadership is lying to them on a daily basis.”
On Monday morning, unknown assailants hurled Molotov cocktails at a restaurant where senior PA official Mahmoud al-Habbash met with Israeli journalists on Sunday. Nobody was hurt and no damage was reported. The attack, however, served as yet another warning to Madani and other Palestinians engaged in all forms of dialogue with Israelis.